A Real Live Report On Shark Attacks From A Real Live Vacationing Family On The Real Live Beach In Surf City, North Carolina

by Nicole Leigh Shaw
Originally Published: 

By the time you read this, I will probably have been bitten by a shark. That’s because I’m currently vacationing with my family in sunny, sharky Surf City, North Carolina. In fact, my husband just returned from the beach with my kids because there was an actual shark in the water. Even on the fishing pier, we saw no fewer than five people posing with the teeny tiny, would-be death bringers they’d caught on their fishing lines.

Now, I’m no “numbers person,” but I can read and it seems that a “number” of “persons” have been bitten by sharks in North Carolina these last 30 days. While other parts of the North Carolina coast have been under attack from belligerent fish auditioning for a Jaws sequel, no town has been more besieged than Surf City.

Shark City, as no one but myself has begun calling it, is the site of two shark attacks at the time of this writing. It’s been such a lightning rod of bitey-bitey swim activity that WikiHow should update its “How to Minimize Meeting Up With a Shark” to include the step “Don’t vacation in Surf City, North Carolina.”

I’m nothing if not vigilant about leaving our family vacation with all of the limbs we arrived with. So, I’ve been keeping up on the news stories and devouring pertinent safety information so that we can prepare ourselves in the event that we end up building a sand castle with a horror from the deep.

I especially want to help my kids be shark-aware. I have four from ages 6 to 10. But I don’t want them to be so tuned in to the bloody atrocities happening right in their own beach house backyard that they are too scared to frolic on the beach, able only to sob and urinate in their Speedos. I put the burden of vigilance on my own sun-burned shoulders.

I’m trying to strike the necessary balance between a carefree vacation and not getting eaten alive. We splash in waist-deep water (not safe, it turns out) and I do what I do best: pretend I’m watching my kids while they swim. Actually, I’m looking elsewhere, namely, the entire ocean. Yes, while my twins think I’m watching them be mermaids, I’m really peering into the many gallons of sea water around them and planning my reaction if I were to see a shark (screaming and praying).

So far, I haven’t seen a shark, but I have seen no fewer than 37 phantom sharks slipping under the breakers, including one time that I thought my own 10-year-old popping up from the waves was a hungry shark and almost punched her in the face because sharks really hate it when you punch them in the face. They hate it so much that they try to eat your entire arm.

© Courtesy Nicole Leigh Shaw

It was that moment—and the time I tried to use my 6-year-old as a human shield against a rogue boogie board that floated menacingly near me—that I realized how much I was learning about myself. It’s been a journey of self-discovery, this Sharkation. Not only have I figured out which child I would save first (the smallest, because the others are too heavy to carry and I’m not particularly fit), I’ve also learned that I really don’t want to sacrifice myself to a sea-going carnivore to save my kids. I’m not saying I won’t do that if the moment calls for it, I’m just saying I hope it’s my husband in the water instead. Don’t worry, I’ll rush him to the hospital. We have good insurance.

But, it’s too late to un-ring the parenting bell or file for divorce so that my husband has to take the kids on a beach vacation on his own, so I might as well arm myself with the shark self-defense lessons I gathered online. According to the Internet, we’re screwed.

Internet Shark Knowledge: Hit a shark on the nose, and he’ll go crying to his shark mommy.

Beach Reality: While the nose is, arguably, a sensitive spot on Mr. Great White, the chances of a puny human person defeating a shark with this kind of mixed martial arts is somewhere between zero and human sushi.


Internet Shark Knowledge: Don’t pee in the water. I’m not sure why this is bad; WikiHow does not elaborate, but I’m going to assume that, just like in a human home, sharks don’t appreciate others pissing in their living room.

Beach Reality: I expressly told my children that the ocean is for peeing in and that they should lubricate the waves with their golden streams at every opportunity. I’m not hauling sandy ass back to the beach house just because Junior is doing the pee-pee dance.


Internet Shark Knowledge: Avoid areas where there have been shark attacks.

Beach Reality: I paid for this vacation back in January. We’re not the Trumps. I can’t just pick from an array of Trump Daddy’s resorts and casinos and rebook our vacation elsewhere.


Internet Shark Knowledge: Arm yourself with a weapon if you plan to swim with the many-toothed fishes.

Beach Reality: The only thing more dangerous than sharks are my children armed with spearguns. I’m no Annie Oakley on the speargun, either.


Internet Shark Knowledge: Know which kind of shark you’re dealing with. I suppose this helps because you can use that information to do nerd voodoo and reason with a Lemon Shark: “You prefer bony fish, stingrays and crabs, sir! Un-mouth my kneecap!”

Beach Reality: I see the dorsal fin of a shark, I think shark. I see the dorsal fin of a dolphin, I think shark. I see a mass of seaweed floating harmlessly in the ocean, I think shark.


Internet Shark Reality: Sharks may be attracted to areas where sea turtles nest, because sea turtles are like Cool Ranch Doritos to sharks.

© Courtesy Nicole Leigh Shaw

Beach Reality: You mean the mother-loving sea turtle nests every 5 feet on the exact beach I’m vacationing on? The ones that are protected by law? The ones we have been actively trying to save? The ones that I’m going to throw at any sharks that try to eat my limbs? Roger that.

I think what I’m trying to say is, meh, sharks. I say this not because the threat isn’t real—it is and I’m dutifully horrified for the victims of these various shark attacks—but because I’m here. I’m here in Shark City, North Carolina, with my family and we are loving it. We are playing in the sand and eating too much ice cream. We are overpaying for sunblock and drinking cocktails at noon because, hell, we’re not even sure which day of the week it is, never mind whether it’s too early in the day for a strawberry daiquiri. We are trying to enjoy this summer while the kids still live under one roof and we have summers together to enjoy.

In other words, we’re keeping an eye out for a big-mouthed fish with many rows of teeth, but until we see one, we’re making the best of things, Cool Ranch Doritos included.

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